by Kenneth Jacob

Probyn’s Horse, Skinner’s Horse, Hodson’s Horse - names to conjure with. Yet how many people have heard of Jacob’s Horse ? It would be fair to say that on a personal level Jacob’s achievements probably surpassed those of the above named. Not only was he a soldier, but also an able administrator, politician, inventor, author and the only Englishman after whom a town was named in India.

When Brigadier General John Jacob died of brain fever on 5th dec 1858 at the relatively young age of 45, surrounded as he was by native and european officers of the station, and former robber chiefs who happened to be in Jacobabad, many of whom had been his former adversaries, we are told there was not a dry eye in the room.

The press in England, whom he had often used to propagate his views on the state of the Indian army, was effusive in its eulogies. It is best summed up by the obituary in the Spectator:

‘England has lost another of her bravest and noblest sons. John Jacob, a chevalier sans peur et sans reproche, the brilliant swordsman, the originator of a military system, the skillful inventor, the only Englishman who has founded and given his name to a town in India, for ten years the lonely and vigilant sentinel on the frontier of our Indian Empire, is no more. In the very flower and vigour of his manhood he has been struck down by brain fever; a frame of iron, an unconquerable soul, which had endured for years immense labour under the burning sun of the Sind desert, and harder still, had waged perpetual battle with the ‘Ephesian wild beasts’ of official blindness, routine and stupidity, suddenly gave way under the pressure on the brain. Thus John Jacob has died, a martyr to his devotion to duty. The death is an irreparable loss to the Empire.’

John Jacob was born on 11th January 1812 in Woolavington in the county of Somerset, were his father, the Reverend Stephen Long Jacob, was the incumbent. His mother Susanna was the daughter of the Reverend James Bond of Ashford, in Kent. One of eleven children, he was the fifth son. His grandfather, Edward Jacob FSA, had been a surgeon in Faversham, Kent, whose practise flourished, enabling him to acquire three estates in the county. He had been mayor of the Faversham on four occasions, following in his father Edward’s footsteps in this respect, he having been mayor of Canterbury in 1727. Edward of Faversham was also the author of several books, notably his ‘History of Faversham’. John was also bookish building up a large library in his house in Jacobabad and was the author of a large number of pamphlets mainly, but not exclusively, relating to matters military.

Of his five brothers, one joined the navy, but died young. Another, Herbert, ended his career as a Major General in the Indian Army, George Andrew DD, the authors great great grandfather had a distinguished teaching career, culminating in the headmastership of Christ’s Hospital. Another brother, Philip Whittington , was an oriental scholar, as well as being mayor of Guildford on four occasions. William Stephen resigned his Captaincy in the Indian Army to become head astronomer at the Madras Observatory. A cousin, Major General Sir George Le Grand Jacob KCSI CB distinguished himself in many Indian campaigns before moving into the political department of the Bombay presidency. Also a keen student of Indian literature, he was author of a number of publications. Other descendants of Edward Jacob included Field Marshal Sir Claud Jacob GCB KCSI KCMG and Major General Sir Ian Jacob GBE CB DL.

John Jacob was schooled by his father until he obtained his cadetrship for Addiscombe. Due to a prank played at Addiscombe during his last term, he was not allowed to apply for the Engineers and as second best was commissioned in the Artillery on his 16th birthday. He sailed for India in January 1828 as a second lieutenant in the Bombay Artillery, never to set foot in England again.

The first seven years were spent with his regiment, whereafter he was detached on a small command and then employed as a subordinate to the collector of Gujerat. In 1838 he was ordered to Sind with the Bombay column, to join the army of the Indus at the outbreak of the first Afghan War.

He first saw active service in the summer of 1839 as a subaltern of artillery in the force led by Sir John Keane, sent to invade Upper Sind. As the only artillery officer left in Upper Sind, he was commanded to put together a scratch battery made up European officers and men, consisting basically of malcontents and misfits from a number of regiments. He chose forty men in all. They marched for Shikarpoor, having sent the artillery forward by water. The heat was appalling, the average temparature in the hospital tent at Shikapoor being 130oF. Seven men and one European officer died of sunstroke during the first 10 miles of the march, and by the end of the march a total of sixteen men had died. Those remaining were in a near mutinous state and Jacob showed for the first time his qualities of leadership, inspiring them to continue against all odds. Ironically it was finally decided the weather made campaigning impossible.

Operations against the plundering tribes of the Kutchee, led by Beja Khan Doomkee, were resumed in October under Major Billamore and with some success. Jacob wrote an account of the campaign. With two 24 pound howitzers and one 6 pound gun at his disposal, he was ordered to make up and command a battery, which proved invaluable in the campaign. Fighting on territory hitherto largely untraversed by Europeans, Jacob charted much of it. He demonstrated his engineering skills at the pass of Nuffoosk, hewing a path along the rocky cliffs along which the guns could be dragged, a feat deemed impossible at the time.

After the campaign the force was broken up and Jacob returned to routine duties in Hyderabad. It was here that he met Major James, later Sir James Outram. A lifelong friendshsip developed that would influence both mens’ careers. Decribed by Outram as a ‘scientific and enterprising officer’, he ordered him to carry out a survey of a route from Hyderabad to Naggur Parkur, which was done with meticulous detail.

Jacob’s first association with the Sind Horse took place during Billamore’s mountain campaign. With only infantry at his disposal, Billamore found it difficult to come to cope with the mounted tribesmen. It was decided that the Sind Horse should be brought onto the scene to assist him.

In 1841 these mustered 600 sabres and were commanded by Lieutenant Curtis. He being invalided, the command was given to Lieutenant Hervey, who subsequently resigned it. Outram invited Jacob to take command during Curtis’s furlough. Curtis never returned and Jacob remained in command. In January 1842 he was additionally placed in political charge of all the Cutchee frontier.

He immediately set about customising the Sind Horse to incorporate his own views of how such a regiment of irregular cavalry should be structured and operate. The most important change was undoubtedly that relating to rules of engagement. Up to then British forces in the area had confined themselves to their cantonments, leaving the robber tribes free to pillage and plunder the countryside.
From now on his men were ordered to camp out in the open and keep a high profile, continuously patrolling the countryside. If the enemy were in striking distance, the Sind Horse struck, with lighting speed and no matter what odds they faced. This new type of warfare was unknown to the tribesmen and by 1842 the area had been cleared of all marauding robber bands. He had also organised an efficient system of spies and was rarely taken off guard. The Belooch mercenaries had given him the subriquet brother of satan.

By now, promoted to the rank of Brevet-Captain, he saw his first major action at the battle of Meanee. One of India’s more important battles, it deserves some mention. The British force, sent to conquer Sind, consisted of 2600 men and were commanded by Sir Charles Napier. Having mustered at Meanee, Napier’s right was protected by the river Indus, the left flank being desert, where enemy horse were mustering in great number. Jacob was ordered to guard this left flank.

Accounts of the size of the enemy force varied, but Jacob gave the lowest estimate, namely 20,000 Belooch under their chief Shere Mahomed. Their front stretched over 1200 yards lining a dry river bed, a raised bank further protecting them. Their cannon were in two batteries in front of the bank and thus protecting their flank. What with soldiers needed to guard the British camp only 1800 men remained to commit to battle. These Napier assigned to a frontal attack, forming them up in a line 1000 yards from the enemy.

The 10 guns available to the artillery were posted on the right with the Bengal Cavalry. Covering the left was the Sind Horse. The battle had lasted for three hours when the Bengal Cavalry and Sind Horse were ordered to force the enemy’s right, which they did with great courage. They galloped at and through the guns cutting down the enemy gunners. The Bengal Cavalry broke the hostile infantry, the Sind Horse took the enemy’s camp. ‘Lieutenant Fitzgerald pursued them for 3 miles, killing it is said, three of the enemy in single combat’. Apparantly of huge proportions, he could ‘cleave men to the teeth with a downward blow, against which shield and turban offered no protection’.

Captain Jacob it was reported, ‘though slight of build, meeting a horseman at full gallop passed his sword through him with such force, through the shield and body, that the hilt struck strongly against the former’.

The British force, in sight of Hyderabad, took the town, having obtained its surrender from the native chiefs. But enemy numbers were swelling once again, a force of 10,000 and more reinforcing them, and Napier’s force had been further reduced. 500 men were needed to garrison the fort. Shere Mahomed was within 10 miles of Hyderabad with a force estimated at between 20,000 and 40,000 men. The very cantonments of Karatchee were threatened by the most powerful chieftains of Southern Sind.

The battle of Hyderabad saw 5000 men under arms, British reinforcements having arrived up the Indus, including 500 recruits, who were sent to garrison the fortress, releasing the veterans for battle. Heavy howitzers and skilled officers and gunners had also arrived, lack of artillery being Napier’s weakest point. The Sind Horse lead the advance, the actual battle taking place at the village of Dubba. It was a bloody affair with much hand to hand fighting. A passage in Napier’s despatch is indicative of how it was: ‘ It gives me great satisfaction to say that some prisoners were taken.’ The Sind Horse had once again distinuished themselves and a few days later Jacob was appointed ADC to the Governor General in recogition of his services.

The ameer had fled, his followers were scattered. And yet Shere Mahomed had enough followers with him to threaten the security of the area. Jacob pursued him and, whilst not managing to capture him, finally and conclusively crushed his forces in a number of encounters and skirmishes, crowning the previous victories and ensuring long term peace in the area. Jacob was recommended for the rank of Brevet Major and a CB after his promotion to the regimental rank of Captain.

He immediately set about stabilising matters in Sind once again. He applied to double the size of the Sind Horse by recruiting a second regiment. This on the understanding that he would command both. Whilst this went against all precedents, it was finally sanctioned. He understood the importance of one chain of command. Again, almost unheard of at the time, he had only four European officers for both regiments. It is at this time that we have the first reference to Jacob’s Horse. Napier announed in a letter of 28th November 1846 that ‘if you like, to give more unity, I will order them to be called Jacob’s Sind Horse, which, in fact, is correct, for they are not to be united except under you.’

In the event, both regiments were absorbed into the Indian Army in 1860 and ultimately became the 35th Scinde Horse and 35th Jacob’s Horse They saw active service in Northern and Central India, Persia and Afghanistan and, during the Great War in France and Palestine. They were almalgamated in 1921 and became known as the 14th Prince of Wales Own Cavalry.

In Jan 1847 he was placed in political charge of the frontier, and established his headquarters at Khangur, where he established a flourishing town which officially became known as Jacobabad. Sind was again in arms, robber bands ravaging the countryside. As before he used his system of defensive attack, which had worked so well in the past. It did again and within a short space of time peace was restored on the frontier.

Jacob’s Horse’s reputation as a fierce fighting unit grew and spread. The worst punishment a trooper could face was being dismissed from the ranks, something that rarely happened. Discipline was exemplary. It is stated at a later period that as much as £800 was offered for place in the ranks. Sons and nephews of troopers were given preference.

As far as recruiting was concerned Jacob always held the muslem or Hindustani in high regard, regarding them as altogether superior beings in every way to other races. He was quite derisory of the Afghans. He gives as an example the battle of Goojerat where 4000 picked horsemen of Dost Mohammed were beaten by 243 hindustanees of the Irregular Horse., having had their leaders killed and their standards captured. He was a man of strong opinions, was not afraid of voicing them and hence had strong prejudices. Again and again one reads of unfairly matched struggles. 130 of Jacob’s Horse killing 600 Boogtee robbers, with the rest of the band taken prisoner. One must allow for a little gilding of the lilly, but basically his novel approach to warfare in Sind paid dividends.

As was normal for irregulars, men were responsible for their own horses and baggage, each tooper carrying provisions for three days. Slung under the horse’s belly was a leather mussack containing 2 gallons of water.

His administrative and political abilities came to the fore. He was described by some as a despot. Perhaps there is some truth in this. But his rule in Sind was based on deep rooted beliefs, many exemplified in his pamphlets. He understood that to govern peaceably the people under his control, they needed to experience economic well being. The vast majority of the tribesmen had lived by robbery and yet, within a few years of Jacob’s administration, they had become tillers of soil. In order for this to happen, Jacob brought much of the desert under cultivation. This was done not only by establishing firm rule of law, but also, and perhaps as importantly, by improving the infrastructure of the country. He cleared canals and built many new ones. He constructed water tanks not only to irrigate many thousands of hectares of land, but also so that an army could be provisioned at all times. He had roads and bridges built, 600 miles of them, improving communications in Sind, the benefits of which are still apparent today.

Responsible for taxation, Jacob taxed fairly and ensured market principals were at work. He strongly believed it was a moral rather than a physical force which would control the tribes under him. His views of what the British in India were doing, particularly in respect of taxation, made him few friends in Bombay. ‘The people had been overtaxed, had no surplus, no room for growth, no spare cash wherewith to indulge any wish, even for the cheapest luxury’….’ The most important commodity in the area was water, yet he had no hard and fast tax on it. The rent payable was regulated on the returns of the irrigated acreage.

Yet the authorities in Bombay were not on the whole sympathetic to his ideas. The finance required to action these plans was not always forthcoming, his requests often falling on deaf ears. With the appointment of Sir Bartle Frere as Commissioner in Upper Sind in 1851, he found a close ally, a man much after his own heart Their cooperation achieved much.

In the summer of 1848 Jacob received orders to detach 500 sabres for service with the Mooltan Field Force. He offered 1000 sabres, rather than the 500 requested,and offered to command in person. However, viewed as too important to be missing from the frontier, his offer was declined, albeit in flattering term. In any case, the rumour of his impending departure had been unsettling all along the border. For the first time in seven years his men would be without him at their head. Lieutenant Merewether was put in command of the detachment.

Jacob’s Horse performed well. Merewether writes in a letter to Jacob, ‘ were ordered by Sir Joseph Thackwell in person to charge the enemy’s right flank, who was then attempting to turn our left with some 4000 horse and some guns. We did this with our 240 men and I can assure you our conduct was the admiration of all….’ Outram wrote to Jacob in glowing terms on the conduct of the Sind horse.

It is interesting to note Jacob’s opinion of Hodson’s Horse. It had been suggested that a force from Punjab work with Jacob’s Horse to suppress the troublesome Murrees. Jacob says’ if we were to be associated with Messrs Hodson and Co of the Punjab, nothing but folly and disgrace would follow. All these people, military and civil, are minus qualities of large amount. Their proceedings now close to us are in defiance of all common sense and are calculated to do us much injury, even on our border.’ He then gives his own ideas of the proper mode of proceeding and maps out a hill campaign in conjunction with the levies of the Khan of Khelat. A man not afraid to voice his views. His views and opinions were published by L Pelly in 1858.

The battle with the Government to obtain funds for his corps was never ceasing. On at least one occasion he offered to resign were funds not forthcoming. It is said in a fit of depression he once discussed with his Lieutenant Henry, later Sir Henry Green, whether they should throw up their commands and emigrate to Australia !

His views on marriage were equally unequivocal. He did not want his officers to marry, life in India being too harsh. Interestingly he gives his views on the perfect marriage, but states it rarely happens, because chiefly the man, but possibly both parties, do not know themselves well enough beforehand. Ideas perhaps well ahead of his time ?

His pamphleteering got him into a lot of trouble with the authorities, both in Bombay and in London. His forthright views, were not even wholly accepted by his family in England. His brother, George Andrew, wrote from Christ’s Hospital to his son, my great grandfather George Adolphus in India on 3rd January 1859. He had just read that day’s copy of the Times which announced the death of John Jacob. He says ‘ We don’t know whether to believe this or not. How sad, if it be so ! He is gone to give account to him who judgeth righteously - with all his wild and strange notions !’ Yet John Jacob’s influence, even posthumously, was of great benefit to my family, my great grandfather being introduced to Major Merewether. No doubt this facilitated his career in the Indian Army, which he ended as a Colonel in charge of army schools in India. He was also a Sanskrit scholar, obtaining an Hon PhD from Cambridge University for his work in his field.

What little spare time Jacob had, he used to great effect. He constructed his magnum opus, a clock, with phases of the moon on the dial, which he had cut with his own hands. The pendulum was a round shot, sent by Henry Green from Looltan, the first shot fired by the Afghans against our forces. He was described by Frere in an article,contributed to the Calcutta review,as ‘ a mathematician of the highest order, unsurpassed as an artilleryman, engineer, sportsman and soldier.’

He had spent 25 years improving rifled firearms, carrying on experiments even unrivalled by public bodies. A range of 200 yards sufficed in cantonments, but at Jacobabad he had to go into the desert to set up butts at a range of 2,000 yards. He went for a four grooved rifle and had numerous experimental guns manufactured in London by the leading gunsmiths and completely at his expense.

He also invented an exploding bullet which fired combustibles up to six miles, but burst efficiently up to 1400 yards.

He believed it would revolutionise the art of war. ‘Two good riflemen so armed could annihalate the best battery of field artillery in 10 minutes. ‘ He states’ I am of the opinion that a four grooved iron gun of a bore four inches in diameter, weighing not less that 24 hundred weight could be made to throw shot to a distance of 10 miles and more, with force and accuracy’.. As his experiments progressed, he increased the possible range to 14 miles. His was a voice in the wilderness. He was ridiculed for suggesting rifling artillery.It is not known where he found the money for all his experiments. Perhaps he had a backer, Frere perhaps, or Outram ?

‘Letters to a lady on the progress of being’ aroused a strorm of protest. He was accused of corrupting youth. He put forward doctrines of evolution which anticipated Darwin. All that could not be demonstrated logically or mathematically must be dismissed as absurd and untenable. The grand truth of nature.

He was a very fair man in what might now call a quirky way . I remember an anecdote told me by Mr Sumro, the deputy High Commissioner for Pakistan, when I had been invited to dine with him. This had been passed onto his father by an old resident of Jacobabad. A trooper of Jacob’s Horse, for a kindness shown to his mount ( and I cannot recall what this was ), was ordered by John Jacob to mount his horse and ride as fast as he could in a given amount of time in a circle. The land he encircled would be given him.

He never married, perhaps out of shyness towards the opposite sex. He had a stutter, was slight of build but as the engraving of him depicts, showed great presence.

In April 1855 he was gazetted Lieutenant Colonel. In 1856, Frere’s poor health made him take leave in England. Jacob was pronounced Acting Commissioner in Sind.

Relations with Persia were worsening and a campaign was decided upon. Sir James Outram was given the command of the army in Persia and Jacob and his horse were ordered to join him. He was raised to the rank of Brigadier General, although Outram had requested the rank of Major General. Unfortunately the Governor General in India did not have the authority to raise an officer from Lieutenant-Colonel to Major General. Jacob had great misgivings about this expedition. War having been declared by Lord Dalhousie, a force of 6000 was assembled, a third being Europeans.

Jacob was put in charge of the cavalry. A few days after disembarking at Bushire, he heard he had been appointed ADC to Queen Victoria. Jacob was delayed in his arrival, but Outram had already routed the Persians, inflicting heavy losses. Their forces were not annihilated however, due to lack of cavalry. When Jacob eventually arrived, General Stalker, who had been placed in command of 3000 men at Bushire, died suddenly and Jacob replaced him the day he landed.

Outram began his bombardment of Muhamra and the Persians fled. In the meantime a peace favourable to Britain had been negotiated in Europe and Outram left for India. Jacob was left in charge of conducting the evacuation at Bushire.

By this time the Indian Mutiny had started, an event Jacob had presaged some years before. Throughout the mutiny Jacob’s Horse remained loyal to their comander and the British, although other regiments in Sind were on the verge of joining the mutineers.

Jacob was anxiously awaited in India, where he had been selected for the command of the Central Indian Army, second in importance only to that of the Eastern Indian Army. When at last he was able to leave Persia, where he had been detained at the insistance of the British minister there, he was under the impression that he would take up this command on his arrival. Lord Elphinstone, unable to wait, gave the command to Sir Hugh Rose instead. Had Jacob arrived a few hourse earlier, he might have prolonged his days and died Lord Jacob of Jacobad.

The regiment of Jacob’s Horse under Malcom Green did good service during the Mutiny in the southern Mahratta country Another body of irreguler horse were raised on the spur of moment and placed under the command of lieutenant Macauley.

He was subsequently authorized to raise two infantry regiments. In many quarters there was much doubt about the potential efficacy of these, but there was no doubt in Jacob’s mind about the quality of the men he would be recruiting. In a letter to Fere he states: ‘I do not propose to govern them by force or fear. I will have sober, God-fearing men in my troops, as old Cromwell said, and will govern them by appealing to their higher, not to their baser attitudes. The object to all our training shall be to develop mental power. The more we can raise our subordinates in the scale of rational beings, the more we can command them.’ An interesting insight into the man

But news of Jacob’s ill health had spread fast. Pelly arrived at Jacobabad and Green had ridden in on 4th to be at his friend’s bedside. Five doctors were in attendance. Green was not satisfied with the most senior of them and ordered a junior doctor under threat of court martial and arrest to tend the dying man. The was no pomp or ceremony at his funeral, in accordance with his wishes.

He is still remembered in Sind, where his grave is lovingly cared for to this day.


General John Jacob by Alexander Innes Shand
John Jacob of Jacobabad by L T Lambrick
Hodson’s, Skinner’s and Jacob’s Horse by W G Legrand Jacob
A Jacob Bibliography by Kenneth Jacob
Jacob MSS ( in the possession of the author )
From Churchill’s Secret Circle to the BBC ( the biography of Liuet-General Sir Ian Jacob GBE CB DL ) by General Sir Charles Richardson GCB CBE DSO
A Victorian Pedagogue and his Circle by Clive Jacob